Your story is a black wing flying through a black night with only glints off it to see, from the light of my own dim mind. So I walk down the road getting prickers in my feet (that’s all left that grows, here), picking up the smooth, round facts of your life.
You were born on Black Tuesday, 1929 and the dust that settled on everything
settled on your father’s crop and on your tiny eyelids. You must have gone West so as not to die with the crop though your Pawnee mother was homesick and beat you for her sorrow.
In California your ankles swelled twice their size first from having children, then from walking away from them. In 1970, when my mother was six years old, you met Snake on Venice Beach. He had a strange dark glow. Snake told you: follow me and do everything that comes into your mind: then you will be free from it. Because you could not afford to treat your schizophrenia and bipolar disorder and because this man offered you sex and god and freedom from your own scorching brain you followed him with some other stray ladies all the way up to Oregon, one night without so much as a note to your family.
There you tried opening an organic joint but because Snake was black and because the town was small people busted the windows with bricks. So you fled to a huge cave way up in the mountains, where you and Snake and the ladies lived. Snake squirmed his prick in the ladies and some of them had babies. You played a wind organ at the mouth of the cave. You ate the flesh of rattlesnakes and shot a gun. One day a lady got scared and shot a ranger dead. Then you all had to walk down from the mountain.
Six years had passed. Your family stopped looking for you in the faces of homeless people. They thought you were dead till one night my aunt saw your face on TV in a news story about some cult on trial for a murder. When you came back they found you walking on Venice Beach – right where you’d started.
These are the facts I learned.
But for me you were a red-lipped, Indian-braided fatso (“ample,” you called it) who cooked exotic yellow peas for Hari Krishnas and burned incense and sometimes had heartburn. I wondered why your heart burned. Turns out, you were deformed by guilt (“karma,” you called it) and by poverty.
When they told me you were crazy I wondered how anybody could be crazy who knows how to make a perfect empanada or make the whole house shine with a rag (“warsh cloth,” you called it) or make men and babies laugh. I didn’t realize – for a bright woman, these are the agents of insanity.
The last time I saw you I sat on your shit-stained quilt in your one-room apartment on Water St. You were chain-smoking in your nighty, your dustbowl eyes drifting between me
and a pop singer warbling faintly on the television. You babbled about the many incarnations of your long-time, much younger lover who was in one life, he claimed, King David and in this life was eating all your food and your pain medications. I’d brought you some fresh fruit because the relatives told me you’d grown too skinny. But all you wanted to eat were strawberry Frosted Mini Wheats, so I sat there eating a banana and handing you Marlboros. I don’t know why I brought fruit. I don’t even like it, myself.